Writing a Brief for Your Copywriter: A (Hopefully) Handy Guide

David Ogilvy, known as the Godfather of Advertising, famously wrote a letter describing his method of writing copy - and it’s an interesting place to start when trying to understand how to build a brief you need your copywriter to answer.

In the letter he says, “I write one definition of the problem and a statement of the purpose which I wish the campaign to achieve.”

It’s vital when writing your brief that you understand and communicate the problem you’d like your copywriter to solve - and if you follow the ‘Five Ws’ it can actually be easy and enjoyable.

The Five Ws

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The Five Ws are Who, What, Why, Where and How (I realise How doesn’t start with a W, but there’s one on the end so let’s not be too picky)

Who

Think about who you are trying to talk to and influence – consider your customer, perhaps, and if you were to meet them on the street, what would they be like. Describe them

What

What is it you’re trying to tell your customer and how will it benefit them? Whether it’s a product or a service, what problem does it solve? If it’s an offer or invitation, what will encourage them to accept?

Why

Why should your customer pick your product, service? Why is what you’re offering special?

Where

Where can your customer find your product - is it online, is it at an event, is it in a particular place? Where will you be collating their response to your copy? Are you collecting their data or watching a sales figure?

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How

How are you going to communicate with your customer? Is it via direct mail, social media or a press release?

Spend time answering these questions and building a picture for your copywriter, looking at what you need them to do.

Structuring your brief

A helpful way to lay out your brief is:

Aim

Objective

Method

Anticipated response/result

Research to be considered

Timescales

Budget

Structuring your brief this way and using the Five Ws will enable you to share with your copywriter all your thoughts behind the work you need them to do. The better they understand your expectations, the better the results will be.

Nothing Like Face-to-Face

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If you’re still feeling flummoxed at the prospect of writing a brief, consider this other nugget of info from the Godfather of Advertising: “If you want ACTION, don’t write - go and tell the guy what you want.”

Sometimes, when you’re not 100% sure what you need your copywriter to do, but you know you need them to do something, it’s easier for both of you to sit down and write the brief together.

Don’t forget: your copywriter has tonnes of experience to share with you; asking them to help you structure the brief can be part of the process.

If you’d like help with a copywriting brief I’d be more than happy to take a look - just get in touch.

 

How do you know if you need a copywriter?

Do you sit staring at a blank screen, tweet or Instagram post waiting for inspiration to strike?

Do you wish you had the time to write blogs, newsletters or content for your website?

Do you have sales literature, adverts or emails to write for your business, but you dread having to tackle them?

If you’ve answered yes to any of the questions above then, yes, you and your business would probably benefit from a copywriter.

So, what is copywriting?

A common misconceptions about copywriting is that anyone can do it and that it’s easy.

The definition of copywriting according to Wikipedia is…

“The act, or occupation of writing text for the purpose of advertising or other forms of marketing. The product, called copy, is written content that aims to increase brand awareness and ultimately persuade a person or group to take a particular action.”

I think of copywriting as talking to someone using words on a page – sounds simple, I know, but writing copy that conjures a voice in a person’s head is tricky - especially when it has to stand out from a sea of well-written marketing copy.

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The key is to allow a person to feel like your words have been written just for them.

The Value of Good Copywriting

Good copywriting gives your brand personality and makes your customers remember who you are. Having gorgeous shots of your products for social media, or a great email offer to share with your customers are no use on their own; they need words and language to bring them to life.

A favourite example for me of when copywriting amplifies a brand’s personality is last year’s John Lewis Christmas TV advert. Using the sentiment of one of the most iconic songs ever written, John Lewis brought the message of their campaign to a final crescendo with the heart-warming end frame and simple line ‘Some gifts are more than just a gift’.

Understandably, not everyone has John Lewis’ budget, but with email marketing as powerful as ever, 57% of people read more than half of the emails they receive; using copy to influence your customers can be done effectively and within your budget.

Press releases, social media posts, emails, website content, white papers can all be sent via various channels relatively cheaply; but where it’s important to make the investment is in the words you want your customers to read.


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Are you ready to let me help you?

You can use copy to great effect on your website, in your social media posts, in your newsletters, sales literature; pretty much anywhere where you write about your business - and I’d love to help you do it.

If you think your business could benefit from my copywriting expertise then please don’t hesitate to get in touch, I’d welcome the opportunity to help you talk to your customers.

Until next time…

Writer's Block: What to Do When it Strikes

Whether it’s a blog post for a client, a short story competition you want to enter or even a new caption for Instagram, when writer’s block strikes it can feel completely debilitating - and like you’ll never be able to write again.

To help overcome it, the first thing to remember is that ‘writer’s block’ isn’t something that crawls into your head zapping you of your writing ability; it’s usually connected to how you feel about your work.

Confidence is a huge part of being able to write and when those sneaky suspicions of ‘am I good enough?’ or ‘will my client like this?’ start to creep in, they can be overwhelming and leave you struggling to write at all.

What to do to restore your faith in your writing ability?

Here are my five top tips for when writer’s block strikes:

1.       Get up and walk away

If you find yourself struggling to find the words to write, get up from your desk and walk away. Pay with cash, don’t take your phone and walk a different way home to the way you came…it will encourage you to connect with your surroundings and look at things differently.

On returning to your work you’ll find you approach it with a clearer focus and the new ideas will start to flow.

2.       Get creative

Writing is a creative output and as described in an article for the New York Times, people’s approach to writing varies, as can the parts of their brains they use to write. Disciplines that require skill and practise need exercise.

Danielle Krysa’s book Creative Block is packed full of creative exercises to help you stimulate the grey matter, give some of them a go.

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3.       Buy a newspaper

Newspapers offer stat-based, short snippets or long form pieces of journalism about people, products, services, businesses – everything! I recommend reading them in hard copy as this is a much more immersive experience than reading online. Plus, you can’t fall into the rabbit hole of click bait if the paper is on the table in front of you.

Get your pen out and scribble all over it as your brain engages and ideas come to you; go grab a paper and feast on its contents.

4.       Talk

 Talking with someone you trust will help your confidence and talking about your work will create new perspectives.

If you’re not quite ready for an in-depth dive into what’s at the root of your writer’s block, think about joining a writing community like Pro Copywriters – but remember to limit your online browsing to no more than 20 minutes, or you run the risk of losing half your day to aimless online wandering.

5.       Write

This comes up a lot when looking at solutions for writer’s block, and as obvious as it is, it’s also probably the best solution.

The chair you’re sat on – describe it, the scene from your window – dictate it, the last time you ate in a restaurant – write a letter about it; just write and focus on how you use language to solve these mini challenges.

Then go back to your work and apply the same process, break it down and start the first draft; write, edit, repeat – you can do it!

 

Will copywriting ever be automated?

It sounds like something out of Black Mirror or Bladerunner (or Fifth Element…did you see that? One of the best films ever made, seriously) but one day, automation is going to affect our lives. Big time.

In some cases we already trust automation to take care of things in our everyday schedules. If you’ve got an Alexa taking down your shopping lists, or a Hive switching off your heating while you’re out for the day, you’re already enjoying the advantages of an automation-led future. How exciting is that?!

But what if computer programmes could help streamline your workflow? Would you use a robot to make your copywriting tasks easier?

Hyperspeed Headlines

You might not know this, but there are already programmes out there that are used regularly to write basic news reports for news agencies. The odd thing? You can barely tell the difference between a short court report written up by a human and a traffic update composed by AI. Ouch.

This technology has been used to create advertising copy, too, using Google’s ‘cost-per-click’ system to train tech to make ads that play it safe, thereby encouraging more clicks while driving costs down.

However, marketing corporation Dentsu Aegis Network decided this wasn’t ground-breaking enough for them. As advertising giants, they knew that creativity is what drives the best marketing campaigns. So, they set off on a journey to teach their algorithms how to ‘think’, ‘feel’ and ultimately, get funny.

According to a fascinating news story about the project on BBC.co.uk, managing director of Dentsu Aegis Network Audrey Kuah said: "Our ambition is to train this AI copywriter to learn how to inject a little bit of that human creativity.”

The robots are coming…

The robots are coming…

The Human Touch

Does this spell the end of the road for creative copywriters?

I honestly don’t think so. While algorithms can be trained to write snappy, empirically interesting copy, the only creativity they can offer is learned.

In that respect, a human element has to exist, in order to push the creative boundaries.

I love writing heartfelt, engaging copy that informs, attracts and moves readers to act. I can’t deny that the idea of having an AI assistant I can send repetitive tasks to is actually a dream come true, for both me and my clients. Imagine all the time I could dedicate to producing thoughtful, creative content! Imagine how much more efficient the processes involved in setting up a website – for example – would be?

 I’m not concerned that robots will take my job. Well, let’s hope not; I quite like doing what I do.


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At the end of the day, creativity comes from your lived experiences, your personality, your likes and dislikes and your own personal hunches. What works for one agency might not work for another. Ads that bring home thousands of pounds in revenue for one company might fall flat for others. That’s why humans, with our amazing adaptability and problem-solving skills, could never really be replaced.

I’m actually excited about where AI might take the creative marketing industry. How about you?

Until next time…

How to Be a Copywriter (By Those Who Do It for a Living)

You quite fancy becoming a copywriter, eh? I like you already. Copywriting is a great career choice - and all the very best people write for a living. But I would say that, wouldn’t I?

So, don’t just listen to me. Before you bust onto the scene like a pen-toting copywriting machine, take the advice of the people who make up this very blog. Copywriters in various stages of their career, they write for agencies, for themselves, or in-house for a brand - but they all have one thing in common: they worked blinking hard to carve for themselves the life they want. Saw it, wanted it, got it. YES!

You can do it, too. Read on…

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Make Some 'Pen' Pals

"Make friends." says freelance copywriter, Elise Dopson. "Whether you're chatting with other copywriters on Twitter, sharing their work or striking up an email conversation about the struggles you're both facing, friends make this job less lonely (which is ironic—we spend most of our time writing for humans on the internet, but still feel lonely in real life). Since making this my top priority since I started freelancing, I feel much less lonelier—and even have a lovely bunch of people who send referrals my way when they're fully booked (and vice versa). The opportunities are endless once you're "in" with people in the industry."

Just 'Go For It'

"So for me, I think the most important thing is to go for it." says André Spiteri of Maverick Words. "Don’t wait for everything to be perfect. It’ll never be. Get a portfolio together and start pitching. The more you work and learn, the more you’ll improve. "

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Set Up a Blog

Alex Fassam from The Curly Haired Copywriter is fairly new to the industry, having recently took up a position on the Infinity team.

He says: “I knew I wanted to become a copywriter more than anything but I knew no-one would hire me with little to no experience. The best thing I ever did was set up my blog. It was my way of A) Showing people I could write B) Expanding on ideas I’d learnt about during my studying on copywriting C) Showing prospective employers I could manage a site like WordPress. It worked like a charm and I’ve landed my dream job. I couldn’t be happier!"

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Use Social Media to Your Advantage

"Invest time in social media - it's an important part of your marketing, so don't feel guilty about spending (quality) time online. Don't be bamboozled by the jargon, it can make writing seem more complicated than it is. Befriend other copywriters - they're a lovely supportive bunch! And finally, but importantly, know what you're worth and don't undersell yourself." - those are the wise words of Megan Rose, who runs her own freelance copywriting business over here.

Hone Your Craft

“I’ve only just got my first job as a copywriter, so I’m still pretty inexperienced myself.” says Simeon - junior copywriter at Pink Squid. “But one important thing I’ve learnt already is to work on mastering different tones of voice, instead of simply relying on the one that feels most natural to you. It seems obvious, but it’ll give any new copywriter a huge advantage if they start off doing that. “

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Put a Portfolio Together

"I’d say there is absolutely no substitute for having a portfolio of relevant work." says Paul French, a copywriter who works at legal firm, Eversheds Sutherland.

"You need to try and work out what sort of copywriter you want to be - creative/long form/jack of all trades and also if there is an industry you want to specialise in. Then either find relevant work experience or work for reduced rates to get some work behind you, which you can use to leverage more work (freelance) or a job (in/house/agency)"

Don't Work for Nothing. EVER.

Rebecca Pearl Messagelab Communications has some sound advice via a piece featured on the Professional Copywriters' Network website.

She says: "I don’t think you need to work for free while you’re building up your portfolio. I didn’t. Of course you won’t be charging the amounts you will with five years’ experience under your belt, but I don’t see any reason to ever work for free. There are always paid opportunities for talented writers. You just need to find them, which is also good practice."

And here’s a tip of my own…

Never Give Up

When it feels like you’re getting nowhere, just keep going. Believe me when I say persistence (and hard work) is key.

Are you a copywriter? Have a tip or two to share? Ping me a message and I’d be happy to add it here. Let’s make this the biggest and best guide for anyone who wants to get into the wonderful world of copywriting.

Until next time…